Posted by Katie McKenna, a lawyer, marketing and engagement director at Legal Futures Associate Casedo, and a Scottish-qualified mental health first aider
As I watched Netflix sensation Bridgerton, I was naturally aghast at the role of women depicted and reflected on how much has changed and how much sadly stays the same. Gone are the bustles and corsets as well as the outdated view of women as property.
Eloise Bridgerton wants so much more than what society dictates should be her lot in life. Yet (spoiler alert!), Penelope is the true highlight and inspiration of the show. She has the same ideals as Eloise but has the creativity and drive to make her dream a reality and obtain an independent income – unheard of at that time for a woman.
Moving from fiction to fact but staying around the similar time, we should all take a moment to say a word of thanks to Madge Easton Anderson. I really have a soft spot for this pioneer.
She studied law at my alma mater, bravely challenged the legal definition of women and practised as a solicitor in Scotland and England following the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919.
She opened so many doors for thousands of women in the UK. However, even in 2021, some of the doors remain closed.
When I look back on my legal career and think about the one that lies ahead for my colleague, Gizem Akilli, and countless others, I feel compelled to share the following lessons.
Know your worth
As a trainee and newly qualified solicitor, I was so overjoyed to have a job that I never thought I could ask for anything more let alone, challenge my working conditions or ask for a raise.
I think women in the legal profession need to feel empowered to ask for more.
In order for us to succeed and reach the deserved heights, we need to recognise our worth, not accept anything less than we deserve and collectively push for the cultural change required to make this happen without having to fight for what comes easily for others.
Boost and support each other
Unfortunately, I’ve worked in teams where other women have not been the most supportive or friendly. We need to change this dynamic and start to work on the basis that there is room at the top for everyone.
With this belief in mind, we can work together to showcase one another’s skills, raise each other up and stand up for each other when required. I believe that women need to take active steps to mentor and sponsor one another to enable us to fully reach our potential. As Simon Sinek says: “If you have the opportunity to do amazing things in your life, bring someone with you.”
It’s often been said that law is not a profession for those with a family. In my experience, that’s usually said by men who have a framed photo of their wife and kids on their desk.
It’s not news to me that the profession is experiencing a ‘brain drain’ of women who find that, upon returning to work after a break to start a family, a law firm isn’t the most supportive of environments.
We need more returner programmes to build up confidence and update skills. We need workplaces to recognise the worth of working mothers and for women to feel safe to ask for working practices that suit the lives we choose to lead.
Apply for that promotion or job
Women regularly would not think to apply for a job or promotion until they have 95% of the required skills or experience. Our male counterparts wouldn’t let that stop them.
I want all women to feel inspired and permitted to apply for roles that appeal without letting self-doubt stop them. You are worthy, you deserve to progress and don’t dare feel embarrassed about shouting about what you’ve accomplished.
Men need to be our allies
For real change to happen in the legal sector, we can’t do it alone. For the cultural change that is required, we need men to realise how they can help change the conversation.
For men reading this, listen to women. Ask how you can support. If you’re invited to speak at a panel, find out if it is diverse and if not, call it out.
Drop ‘Dear sirs’
Following on from RebLaw’s open letter in the Law Society of Scotland’s journal, we need to make the steps to change how we view the legal sector. Even the standard opening to our letters, ‘Dear Sirs’, dismisses women and fails to acknowledge that females make up the majority of the profession.